I've drooled for years over those photos that you see in Scottish calendars of the Trossachs from the little mountain of Ben Venue. You know the ones ... there'll be snow-capped peaks pointing into a blue sky above an idyllic mix of woods and water. And often there'll be an old-fashioned looking walker gazing to the horizon wearing a bobble hat and trousers tucked into red, woolly hiking socks. Well, finally it was time for me to get out there, climb Ben Venue and gaze at that horizon myself. There was one problem. It's a wee bit of a puzzle climbing Ben Venue by public transport and required trains, buses and a lot of extra leg work.
The climb started with an early Saturday morning train to Stirling which got me there to catch the first bus to the Trossachs village of Aberfoyle. The bus trundled west through the winter fields of the Carse of Stirling and with each rise in the undulating road the passengers had a view north to an array of snow-capped mountains that marked the Highland edge. Just before ten, I was striding out from Aberfoyle on a frosty, sunny morning.
The start of the route up Ben Venue is at Ledard Farm, several miles west from Aberfoyle along a B road. It's no fun plodding along hard tarmac so I took the slightly longer forest trail along the south shore of Loch Ard. Beams of morning sunshine burst through the pines and Ben Lomond teased up ahead with glimpses through mist of it's snow-capped top. The Loch Ard trail eventually pops out at Kinlochard. And two and half hours after getting off the bus and over five hours after leaving home, I was at the "start" of the walk.
The route up Ben Venue from here was pure, unbridled joy. A narrow path climbed up through beech woods drenched in warm sunshine and followed the tumbling waterfalls and dreamy pools of the Ledard Burn. The water was so prefectly clear that I could see the multi-coloured stones on the bottom, dappled by the sunshine. Above the woods the path entered open terrain where a chill wind blew through and then disappeared under the snow line.
My route continued to climb steeply in fresh snow that was soft in some places and hard and wind-rippled in other places. I pulled up onto Ben Venue's ridge and meandered between the rocky knolls and outcrops to the top. The moment was perfect and I felt really jammy hitting it on a day like today.
Despite its small size, Ben Venue is a great, little mountain especially when it's under snow. I felt like I'd had a big mountain day out but in a miniature package. And the view was just as advertised. A jumble of cold, snowy peaks filled the horizon and below my feet there was as much water as there was woodland. The snow contrasted with the blue sky and the sun mostly shone. Mind you, there was no sign of that walker in the bobble hat and red socks so a selfie in pink had to suffice for that photo from the top.
I started down off the top to find a campspot for the night. There's no Sunday bus out of Aberfoyle so there was no point in retracing my route. Instead I dropped off the northeast side of the mountain, picked up a rough, boggy path and descended into the Loch Achray Forest. By the time I'd found a campspot beside the Achray Water, it had been a long day and I put the lights out soon after dark.
It was hard to get moving out of my tent next morning knowing that the nearest bus was at Callander, a long walk away with the last few miles on dreaded tarmac road. But then something changed outside. Snowflakes started to drift gently through the trees and by the time I was packing up, the snow had really ramped up. The landscape was suddenly painted white and I walked out to Callander not on hard tarmac but on a soft cushion of fresh snow.
Pauline, I thought to myself, you are truly jammy.
Photos: More photos on flickr, click here.
Start: Aberfoyle by bus from Stirling Bus Station which is next to the train station.
Finish: Callander then taking a bus to Stirling to catch a train.
Map: OS Landranger 57
Route: In Aberfoyle walk west along the main street and keep heading west along the B829 to Milton. Cross the bridge to enter Loch Ard Forest and follow the trail around Loch Ard to Kinlochard. At Kinlochard walk east along the B829 for 500m to the road up to Ledard Farm. Take this road which is signed for Ben Venue but leave it just before the farm by following a signed path to the left. Follow the path up through woods beside the burn and go left at a split signed by a green arrow painted on a post (easily missed). The route continues above the trees and climbs around the west side of the top before pulling up onto a bealach marked by a cairm. It then continues along the ridge to the right of the west top which is easily climbed and then onto the east top. I returned to the bealach and found a rough path heading east down into Loch Achray Forest. It becomes a good path later and cuts a line through the forest which is pleasant lower down. When it reached the bottom track alongside the Achray Water I turned left and found a campspot a little way upriver. Next day I walked back along the track which eventually comes out at the Loch Achray Hotel. It actually goes right through the grounds! I followed the A821 to the right and picked up a forest trail leaving to the left at grid ref NN512062 which links to the tracks along the south shores of Lochs Achray and Venachar. From Invertrossachs it's then a private then single track road into Callander.